An astronaut returns to earth after a mission to discover he has traveled over 200 years into the future. Humanity as we know it no longer exists. An extraterrestrial microbe wiped out most of the population, leaving the survivors physically changed. The astronaut agrees to return to his present with the man from the future to warn people of what is coming.
“The Man Who Was Never Born” is the first time travel episode of The Outer Limits. It dives headfirst into the grandfather paradox, the science fiction thought experiment and trope of traveling back in time to kill someone to prevent the future. The astronaut does not survive the return to the present. His last words command the person from the future to finish the journey and kill the man who would invent the deadly extraterrestrial microbe.
The monster of the episode is the main character. Professor Andro, the man from the future, can change how people perceive his appearance. If he doesn’t, he terrifies anyone who sees him. His understanding of this distant past is based entirely on literature and a desire to foster peace. He cannot imagine a world where violence could be viewed as the answer to anything.
There’s a simple and effective tell for the transformation. Right before Andro changes, the screen ripples. He switches from the practical effects of his distorted face to a slightly blurred world of more traditional beauty. The focus of the camera isn’t as crisp when he looks like a person from the present because his shifting appearance can change the course of the future. Only when he shows his true appearance and lives in his reality does the camera become clear.
“The Man Who Was Never Born” features some fine acting and design. Martin Landau is wonderful as Andro. His performance as a person from the future not entirely comprehending the past is believable. Shirley Knight is perfectly dreamy as Noelle, the woman destined to give birth to the man who develops the fatal microbe. John Considine is a perfect foil to Landau as Bertram Cabot, Noelle’s fiancé. Cabot is in the military and willing to use violence as a first answer; Andro resents the violence of the past that stopped research into preventative medicine; Noelle is the woman torn between two men she doesn’t quite understand.
The problem here is the story itself. No amount of great acting or creature design can cover for such a thin plot. The concept of the story isn’t the sci-fi premise of The Outer Limits, but an attempt to tell a different version of Beauty and the Beast. Screenwriter Anthony Lawrence cites Jean Cocteau’s film version as inspiration for this episode. The sci-fi elements are window dressing on a tragic romance that does not develop into its own particularly substantial story.
content warning: gun violence
Up next: The Outer Limits S1E07 “O.B.I.T.” The Outer Limits is streaming on The Roku Channel.